Nearly 900 children under the age of 12 have tested positive for HIV in a Pakistani city after a children’s doctor allegedly reused infected syringes.
The outbreak was initially blamed solely on Dr Muzaffar Ghanghro, a paediatrician who charges 16p a visit and as such is one of the cheapest doctors in the city of Ratodero.
Dr Ghanghro was subsequently arrested and charged with negligence and manslaughter after his patients accused him of frequently reusing syringes on their children.
Imtiaz Jalbani, whose six children were treated by the paediatrician, told The New York Times he witnessed Dr Ghanghro rummaging through a bin for an old needle to use on his six-year-old son, who was later diagnosed as HIV-positive.
When Jalbani protested, the doctor allegedly snapped at him and said the father was too poor to pay for a new needle, hence he had to reuse an old one. Four of the father’s children have since tested positive for the virus, with his two youngest dying.
The local journalist who broke the news of the epidemic to residents of his city earlier this year, Gulbahar Shaikh, rushed his own family to be tested when Dr Ghanghro was placed under suspicion – as he was his own children’s paediatrician.
Tragically, Shaikh’s two-year-old daughter was confirmed to have the virus, something the 44-year-old father described as ‘devastating’.
Approximately 200 adults have also tested positive for HIV since the epidemic in Ratodero was confirmed in April, although Dr Ghanghro has maintained his innocence, insisting he has never reused syringes. He is currently working as a GP at a government hospital on the outskirts of the city, after renewing his medical licence.
Health officials have now said the doctor is unlikely to be the sole cause of the outbreak, with visiting health workers saying they had witnessed many cases of doctors reusing syringes and intravenous needles in the area.
Not only that, but barbers use the same razor on multiple customers, while roadside dentists work on patients’ teeth on pavements with unsterilised tools. According to health officials, such unhygienic practices – which are prevalent across Pakistan – are probably the leading cause of the country’s surging rates of HIV infection.
Authorities in Pakistan began shutting down the clinics of unqualified doctors and illegal blood banks in May, however locals say some of them have already reopened in the months since.
Dr Imran Akbar Arbani, a local doctor, said:
Unless these quack doctors, barbers and dentists are not checked, the number of incidents of HIV infection will continue going up.
According to Dr Arbani, at least 35 children have died in the area since April 25, with health officials fearing the real number of those living with the virus could be far higher than the 1,112 cases confirmed so far – as less than a quarter of the city’s 200,000 residents have been tested so far.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence contact the Terrence Higgins Trust on 0808 802 1221.
The New York Times
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